Aphelion Issue 220, Volume 21
August 2017
 
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In Hot Water
A "Dragonson" vignette

by Walter G. Esselman




SOS, the spell otter, raced to the edge of the canal excitedly, and then ran back to Brianna barking furiously. Brianna leaned down to pet the otter, but SOS ran back to the edge of the canal eager to get in the water.

"If you want," said Brianna to the otter. "Go ahead. We'll be there in a moment."

SOS vacillated for a moment hopping excitedly. Brianna had created SOS out of water one day using too much magic. The otter's fur was several shades of blue, but otherwise, a wonderful critter. The otter hopped into the water and Brianna smiled.

"What are we looking for?" asked Regent. Brianna turned to him. Regent, a tall Nymphari soldier and her uncle, was towering over several lords from the city-state of Bon Su Pear. The old men had to look up at him in their long beards and robes while they shifted nervously.

"It's a red box about this big," said Lord Sizzle and he gestured with his hands to show that the box was not that big. "It was on the Laurali. The captain was supposed to keep it in his cabin, if the cabin survived the sinking."

Brianna looked out to the sapphire blue water. That had been a terrible day when Bon Su Pear had been attacked by sea. The Ships of Iron that attacked the city had started by sinking the ships in the harbor.

"This is very important," said Lord Sizzle. "If we could, we would send our own troops to go get it."

"They probably would have trouble breathing underwater," nodded Regent. He and Brianna were water nymphs. "But what's in the box?"

The old men looked at each other for a moment, and then Lord Sizzle spoke up.

"Some documents from the island nation of Cor'aveadrincmate," said Lord Sizzle. "Boring government paperwork. But still important."

"Would the documents have survived underwater?" asked Regent.

"The minister was supposed to spell the box to keep the contents dry, standard procedure in this case," said Lord Sizzle. "It should be an easy swim down and back,"

SOS jumped out of the water and he began running back and forth barking. Brianna walked over to him.

"Don't worry," cooed Brianna. "I'm coming."

"We'll get it," said Regent to the lords as he walked towards the canal. Brianna ran ahead as SOS danced excitedly. She leapt into the air and hit the water with hardly a splash. SOS dived in after her.

"She seems eager," said Lord Sizzle.

Regent looked back at the lords. "And really who can blame her."

Grinning, Regent let out a whoop as he dove into the water. It instantly rejuvenated the old soldier. His lungs switched from air to water as he kicked down the canal. He saw Brianna up ahead moving out into the bay. Her red hair trailed behind. Light streamed down like beams through the blue water. As Brianna nosed down, SOS swam around her in joyful circles.

At the bottom of the harbor was a graveyard. Ships, both intact and broken apart, now lay at the seafloor. They had only gone down a few weeks ago. and already sea life was claiming the ships as their new homes. Catching up with Brianna, Regent switched to the ancient language of the nymphs, Deepspeech, which used clicks.

"There it is," said Regent as he pointed to the Laurali. There was a terrible hole in its haul where a shot from the Ships of Iron had torn into it.

"Poor thing," said Brianna. "Probably didn't know what hit it."

They drew close. SOS skirted around the edge of the hole and went inside the ship.

"SOS," called out Brianna. "Be careful."

Brianna started to move forward when Regent shot in front of her. He held onto the edge of the jagged hole and she looked at him quizzically.

"From the reports I've read," said Regent. "The Laurali went down with all hands."

"Meaning?" asked Brianna.

"It means that it's just us down here," said Regent. "Inside is not going to be pretty."

"You want me to stay out here?" asked Brianna indignantly.

"No, no," said Regent quickly. "I am merely offering you the chance to stay out here. No one will know."

The Duchess Brianna Sur raised her chin. "I will know."

Turning into the ship, Brianna disappeared after SOS. Regent got a little smile on his face, and then followed her inside.

A moment after he followed her into the ship, something big passed by the entrance. It paused long enough to lick the edge of the hole where Regent had gripped the wood.

Inside, the ship had settled into the mud at a 45-degree angle, which made the corridors seem off. As they passed from the sunlight, Brianna scratched SOS's back and while doing so, gave him a little boost of energy. The spell otter began to glow a bright blue.

They found the captain's cabin easily, which was angled down towards the mud. She tried the door, but it would not budge.

"Let me try," suggested Regent and Brianna swam back.

"I can always magic it open," suggested Brianna.

"Let's try brute force first," replied Regent. The passageway was tiny. Bracing his back against the wall, Regent pushed in the door. It gave and he fell towards the door as something bobbed out. The gruesome face of Captain Shore shot up at Regent.

"Gah!" cried Regent as he pushed the body of the captain away. Brianna laughed and Regent gave her a sharp look.

"That was pretty funny," said Brianna defensively, and Regent reluctantly smiled.

"Get in there, funny girl, and find our buried treasure," commanded Regent.

"Aye aye captain," saluted Brianna and she went into the captain's cabin. She looked around. "Wow, rank doth not have privilege here."

"Why do you say that?" asked Regent.

"This cabin," she said spreading out her arms and touching either wall. "Not very big."

"Are you sure?" asked Regent.

"Sure of what?" asked Brianna.

"This might be the state room," said Regent and Brianna turned around.

"And that would be so sad," said Brianna.

"Means everyone's on deck most of the time," said Regent. "Now if you're finished planning how to decorate the place…"

"Some curtains would be nice," suggested Brianna cheerily.

"Brianna!" growled Regent, but playfully.

"All right, I'm going!" said Brianna. "I'm going."

SOS swam around the room casting light everywhere.

"Ah-ha!" cried Regent. He held up the box. "Found it."

Neither Regent nor Brianna wanted to dawdle in the dead ship. They swam quickly towards the hole in the side of the ship and smiled when they saw the sun. SOS, still glowing bright blue, shot out of the side of the ship. Turning to look at them, SOS did not see it coming.

The monster shot across Brianna's vision and then disappeared from view. SOS was gone.

"That . . . THAT . . ." snarled Brianna in rage. She swam quickly for the edge, but Regent pulled her back. "Let . . . let go of me!"

"No," said Regent quietly as she struggled against him.

"IT ATE SOS!" howled Brianna. "Can't you see that! It's dead! I swear to the Goddess, that thing is dead!"

Regent pulled the young girl close and held her as she trembled. The anger began to turn to tears.

"You okay now?" asked Regent.

"I can't believe it," whispered Brianna.

Regent held her suddenly at arm's length. "Okay soldier. Don't weep yet. We'll have time enough after the fight. Right now, hold on to that anger and don't let it go. Can you do that?"

Brianna's eyes narrowed and she nodded quickly.

"Right, it already made one mistake," said Regent. "What was that?"

"Um," stated Brianna.

"It messed with us," said Regent. "Now it's just supper that doesn't know it's dead yet."

Brianna's shoulders straightened and slowly Regent let her go.

"What can I do?" asked Brianna.

"We need to know what it is," said Regent. "I need you to create one of your big watergolems to walk out there."

Brianna's hand turned bright blue, which made her finger bones stand out. A large watergolem formed out of the seawater looking like a blue soldier. The watergolem walked out of the hole and looked around.

A fifteen-foot monster shot down and bit off its top half. As the watergolem lost cohesion, turning back to water, they saw the confused creature try to eat walking seawater.

"Is it a bull?" asked Brianna. "But no, it's got fins."

"It's a Camahueto," said Regent. "The top half is bull, but the rest is fish."

"I've never heard of one," said Brianna as the monster shot off.

"Not surprised," said Regent. "This is the first one I've ever seen."

"Lucky you," said Brianna.

"I lead a charmed life," said Regent.

"Where did it come from?" asked Brianna. "The deepocean?"

"Actually, I've heard they're from in-land," said Regent. They are born up in the river system and migrate down as they grow."

"It's big," said Brianna.

"I think that it's a teenager," said Regent gravely, and Brianna just looked at him. "Those sailor tales of giant monsters attacking ships are not all . . . well, fish stories."

"What do we do?" asked Brianna.

"We run," said Regent.

"What?" cried Brianna.

"We're outnumbered and outgunned," said Regent. "We get up to the surface and find a bunch of badass soldiers that are hungry, and then we come back."

"Okay," said Brianna at last.

"Now," said Regent. "Those little watergolems you make. . . ."

"My tiny dancers," said Brianna.

"Those are the ones," nodded Regent.

***

The side of the ship seemed to explode with blue light. Small watergolems, that Brianna called her tiny dancers, flew out into the water. There were hundreds. The monster dove into them, but became confused. It could not find anything solid to eat.

Flying behind it and up towards the surface, Regent held Brianna as the swarm of tiny dancers spun around them. Brianna now saw the wisdom of Regent carrying her. The spell was hard enough to hold as is, not to mention holding the box that the lords wanted. The Camahueto flew back and forth through the horde of tiny dancers. It could smell meat, but it could not find it.

Brianna suddenly felt tapped out.

"Can't hold on much longer," she murmured.

"Almost there," said Regent.

Regent turned for the canal and broke out of the cloud of dancers as they lost cohesion. He saw the steps leading out of the canal. The Camahueto roared as it spotted its prey. The steps were slick with algae. Regent made a mental note to clean it later, if there was a later. Kicking up, he dove out of the water. Tucking Brianna in close, he rolled with her.

There was a tremendous splash as the monster raced through the canal and past them.

Coughing up seawater, Regent sat on the warm stones for a moment. Brianna lay against him now holding the box. She looked so sad.

"Now we cry?" asked Brianna, almost as if seeking permission.

Before Regent could speak, the lords of Bon Su Pear ran up. Several of Bon Su Pear's soldiers came up as well holding their spears.

"Oh, you got it!" cried Lord Burntleaf as he took the box from an unresisting Brianna.

"What happened?" asked Lord Sizzle, who was more of a people person than the others.

"It . . . it happened too fast," said Brianna.

"What?" asked Lord Sizzle.

The Camahueto exploded out of the canal. Dropping its huge clawed feet on the stones, the bull's head roared. Regent pulled Brianna back while trying to push back the lords as well. One of the soldiers ran forward with his spear.

Swiping the soldier with his clawed foot, the poor man was tossed up in the air to finally splash into the water. Pulling itself fully onto land, the Camahueto glared at Regent and Brianna. Moving back, Regent pushed Brianna, still weary from all that magic, toward Lord Sizzle.

"Take her," said Regent. He snatched the spear from another soldier. "Who wants fish for supper?"

Howling, Regent dashed. The monster dipped the horns on its head. Regent feinted left and then dove right. He drove the spear right through the Camahueto's foot and into the stone beneath, pinning the monster. As it cried in pain, Regent drew his dagger and stabbed at its side, but the monster's hide was too thick.

"Here!" cried one of the soldiers. A sword spun across the stones toward Regent. The old soldier trapped it under his boot, and, tucking his foot under, he threw the sword up to his hand. In one practiced motion, Regent sliced a huge gash in the monster's side.

Regent cut two more gashes into the Camahueto when the side of a bull's horn caught him in the shoulder. The old soldier was thrown down to the stones. The monster raised its tail to smash Regent flat when a voice called out.

"You ate my friend," said a dark and dangerous voice. The monster looked to see Brianna standing in front of it. The girl's hands glowed bright blue. She dropped to one knee and touched a small rivulet of water that the monster had brought with it. The rivulet glowed blue and touched another bit of water. The blue glow followed the water that reached down into the canal.

The monster opened its mouth to bite off the girl's head when the canal water stood up.

Five watergolems bore down on the monster that immediately knocked one apart with its tail. The other four watergolems fell on the Camahueto and began to tear it apart. The monster raised its bull head in surprise a moment before it saw Regent's sword.

Brianna jumped back as the monster's head hit the stones. The watergolems kept at their attack.

Suddenly, the box was torn from Lord Burntleaf's hands. Regent was there and holding the box up high.

"What do you think you're . . ." started Lord Burntleaf.

"What's in the box?" demanded Regent.

"Government documents," said Lord Burntleaf, once he remembered what their lie was.

"Wrong," said Regent and he dropped the box. The lords cried out, but Regent caught it again. "We almost died for this box. SOS. . . ."

Suddenly Lord Sizzle realized who he had missed in all the commotion:SOS, the spell otter.

"Oh no."

"Oh yes," snarled Regent. "So, I ask again before I pitch this into the ground. "What…is…in…the…box?"

"We won't tell you," said Lord Burntleaf stupidly.

"He doesn't mean that," said Lord Sizzle.

"I don't?" asked Burntleaf.

"No you don't," said Sizzle and he looked at all the lords. "We have to tell him. They've earned it."

One by one all the lords, including Burntleaf at last, nodded their heads. First, Lord Sizzle sent everyone away until it was just Regent and the lords.

"You must keep this close to your vest," said Sizzle. "Word cannot get out about what is in the box. If anyone asks, tell them that it was something embarrassing. Make up a more foolish story if you wish. Anything but the truth."

"More foolish?" asked Regent in confusion.

"There is an old tradition of the lords dating back to the time of King Gideon," said Lord Sizzle. "We, up in the castle, can often lose sight of what's really important in government . . ."

"Taking care of the people," supplied Burntleaf.

"I don't understand," said Regent.

"Every year, the lords are to help people in our city but, and this is important, it must be anonymous," said Sizzle. "It was old Higgins who had the idea this year."

"You know about the Wailing Flu that has been making everyone so sick," said Lord Higgins.

"Especially in the Blue Shine district," nodded Regent.

"In the box is a medicine that should cure the people," said Sizzle. "But no one can know about this."

Regent opened his mouth and then closed it. Suddenly, he held up the box again.

"No," cried Burntleaf.

"So that's what this was all about?" cried out Regent so all could hear. "Some imported booze? This is unconscionable! I should throw it back in the water for risking our lives."

"Quiet," said Brianna from behind Regent.

Sizzle did not notice what she said as he gave a small smile, and then looked appropriately abashed.

"I'm so sorry to deceive you like this," said Lord Sizzle loudly to Regent.

"SHUT UP!" commanded the Duchess Brianna Sur and everyone looked at her. Regent furrowed his eyebrows. Sometime during his conversation with the lords, Brianna's watergolems had stood back; the water of their bodies was now dark with blood. Brianna moved closer to the monster. She turned to Regent. "Hurry! Your sword!"

Burntleaf grabbed the box and held it closely as Regent ran to his niece. She pointed toward what was left of the Camahueto. Regent stopped breathing for moment, and then he heard it; a soft barking sound. He looked at Brianna who had tears in her eyes.

After a few minutes of careful surgery, Regent reached into the monster with his long arms. He lifted out a gooey, but unharmed SOS who barked happily. The blue spell otter jumped from his hands and into Brianna's arms.

"You poor girl," soothed Brianna. "You got swallowed whole."

Holding SOS close, despite the stickiness of her fur, Brianna looked up at Regent who grinned.

"Damnedest thing I ever saw," said the old soldier.

"Let's get you home to a nice bath. . . ." Brianna sniffed. "Maybe two baths, and a lot of food," she said to SOS, who barked happily at the thought.


THE END


2017 Walter G. Esselman

Bio: Mr. Esselman's last Aphelion appearance, Fur Flying appeared in our November 2016 issue.

E-mail: Walter G. Esselman

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